Aug 31, 2013
Players players from Auburn's 11-0 1993 team gathered in the letterman's lounge at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Friday night (Todd Van Emst photo)
AUBURN, Ala. - Through the heartbreak of losing their head coach and the disappointment of NCAA sanctions brought down by the mistakes of others, the Auburn football players of 1993 pulled together.
After 12 seasons, Pat Dye had resigned the night before the Iron Bowl in 1992. The NCAA had come down hard with a two-year postseason ban and one-year television ban for alleged violations committed by others. Terry Bowden had moved from Samford to be the head coach.
Through it all, the football Tigers of 1993 persevered and wrote a proud chapter in Auburn history. They went 11-0, and those who returned in 1994 carried that win streak to 20 consecutive games.
Today, at Auburn's season-opener against Washington State, they'll be honored 20 years after they started that road to glory. Friday night, players gathered in the letterman's lounge to eat, drink, see old friends and tell stories.
The players who made it happen came from far and near. The "Dillard 5," five players from Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, played a major role. Running back James Bostic rushed for 1,205 yards and broke Alabama's back with a 76-yard run in Auburn's 22-14 victory. Frank Sanders was a dominating receiver, catching 48 passes for 842 yards and six touchdowns. Brian Robinson and Calvin Jackson were defensive backs supreme. Otis Mounds was the man who started it all.
Bostic, now a police and SWAT officer in Coral City, Fla., smiled at the memory Friday night.
"It was probably one of the greatest teams to come through here, if you ask me," Bostic said. "We worked hard. We had a lot going on that we had to work through, and we did."
Willie Whitehead was a defensive end on an unlikely journey.
He'd grown up in nearby Tuskegee and walked on. He became an integral part of Auburn's defense and went on to play for eight seasons in the NFL, the last seven with the New Orleans Saints.
"This is awesome," Whitehead said, looking around. "I'm just elated that the athletic department put this together."
Whitehead was a junior in 1993, and he said that season will be with him always.
"It was very special," Whitehead said. "People don't realize the camaraderie and fortitude it took under the circumstances to go out and win every game."
Whitehead, who retired after the 2006 season, also played there years in the Canadian Football League. Today's he's a motivational speaker and runs the Willie Whitehead Foundation, which mentors children from 6 to 18.
Bowden retained defensive coordinator Wayne Hall from Dye's staff. Hall's departure after the 1995 season was contentious, but in 1993, everything came together.
"As a head coach, Terry probably did as good a job that year as anybody has ever done," Hall said. "He let people work, he hired good people. Everything came together."
The most celebrated victories that season were over Florida and Alabama, but Hall remembers another one vividly. At Vanderbilt, Auburn's defense stopped the Commodores four straight times at the 1-yard line to preserve a 14-10 victory.
"Of all teams, to almost get beat by Vanderbilt," Hall said. "It was an unusual streak. It was a lot of fun."
Auburn had already achieved Bowden's goal of winning six games when Florida came to town on Oct. 16. There had been a resounding 34-10 victory at LSU, but this would be the test. Few people gave the Tigers much of a chance against the high-scoring Gators.
Late in the first quarter, it seemed Auburn didn't have a chance. Florida was up 10-0 and driving relentlessly to make it 17-0. But Jackson intercepted a Danny Wuerffel pass and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown.
"The coaches kept saying we needed a big play," Jackson said after the game. "I just stepped in front of the receiver, made the catch and saw nothing but green in front of me."
Florida seemed to have taken command again by halftime, leading 27-14. But Auburn wouldn't go away. White threw a touchdown pass to Tony Richardson. Bostic ran for another. Wuerffel answered every Auburn charge. Finally, with players and coaches near emotional exhaustion, Auburn got the ball back in the final minutes with the score tied at 35.
With 1:21 left in the game, Scott Etheridge kicked a 41-yard field goal and Auburn had done what so many deemed impossible. It had beaten Florida.
It was then that Bowden, his players and people across the nation knew Auburn was a threat to go the distance. But not even the win over Florida is remembered as the defining moment for that team. It will always be the come-from-behind 22-14 win over Alabama that closed it out.
And the defining play in the defining game will be one Patrick Nix will cherish all his life.
Nix, who would become the starter in 1994, didn't expect to play against Alabama. But four-year starter Stan White went down with a knee injury midway through the fourth quarter, ending his college career. It was fourth-and-15 at the Alabama 35 when Nix took the field. Alabama led 14-5.
The call was surprising, to say the least. With no warmups, Nix was told to throw deep for Sanders. The game would turn right then and there.
Nix threw for Sanders near the goal line. Sanders, coming back for the ball, grabbed it and dived across the goal line. A 26-yard Etheridge field goal and a 70-yard Bostic sprint provided the winning points, but it was Nix's pass that put Alabama on its heels.
That Nix grew up in Alabama made it all the more special.
"When I was in the fourth grade in Haleyville, the Friday before the Auburn-Alabama game everybody wore the colors of one school or the other," Nix says. "We were probably outnumbered 10-1. I fought anyway. That was when Coach Bryant was at Alabama and Auburn was always the underdog. We were looked down on.
"I did what I did for all those kids in the fourth grade getting abused."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: